Doctor Who: Praxeus

"Oh, I'm a sucker for a scientist!"

Well, I didn't hate it.

A lot of this episode feels like plot concept spaghetti. There's a lot of interesting ideas getting thrown at the wall, and many of them are sticking in a way that you could have built an enjoyable episode around, but there are just so many different ideas being brought up that the entirety ends up feeling confused and meandering, even though it really isn't if you watch it through a couple of times to parse out how all of the different threads sort of relate to each other.

Let's take an example in miniature. We open with Adam's space shuttle falling to the Earth. All we know at the time is that it appears to be malfunctioning and he crashes into the Indian Ocean where he's presumed dead. So, having seen the entire episode, could you tell me if he was already infected with the Praxeus pathogen? Was the space shuttle he's on under attack by the Praxeus pathogen? (They are made out of quite a lot of plastic – a point which never, ever gets brought up even once.) Did the mysterious aliens who are experimenting on humans, but got infected themselves, kidnap him from a coincidental wreck in the Indian Ocean? Did they engineer the crash to get a subject they could infect for the experiment, or did they happen to notice a convenient crash and discover the occupant was infected with the exact thing they were studying? Regardless of how Adam got infected, was the machinery in Hong Kong curing or helping him, like Yaz seemed to believe? Or was it infecting and studying him as the plot seems to imply later?

Later we're told that the crashed alien spacecraft was sending pulses that made the shuttle crash, but then, was it then a scheduled re-entry for Adam? Because that doesn't seem to gel with Jake's responses to the situation. Was Aramu a human that Suki hired when her folk got infected, or was he her last surviving crewmember, because that would be kind of important to Suki when he died, assuming he did actually die, which isn't remotely clear from the flock attacking him, which isn't how they kill people anyway based on what we're told later.

We don't have the answers to any of these questions, because the episode never pauses long enough to think about them. It's far too busy racing off towards the next exciting twist plot reveal.

At heart this wants to be about how humanity has created these huge dead zones of plastic in the ocean, which – thanks to some passing alien scientists – become infected with a pathogen that makes plastic take over its host organism. The birds then pass this on the humans, who succumb to the pathogen by becoming encased in a plastic shell which disintegrates them. That'll show us for recklessly filling our food chain and water supply with micro-plastics. Honestly, I'm kind of surprised that they didn't go ahead and throw in that Jake had run away from Adam because he was ashamed about growing breasts due to the rising levels of estrogen in the world's drinking water. I can only assume that the idea just never occurred to them, because the words 'No, I think that might be one unrelated concept too many' were absolutely never said out loud at any stage of this production.

It's all very frustrating, because a lot of the ideas being thrown at us are good ones that could have made great episodes. All they really had to do was weed out a few of the plot threads in one additional draft of the script. One obvious quick fix with a bit of cutting? Delete Naval Officer Zach Olson and replace him with missing astronaut Adam Lang. You can still have the alien tech in Hong Kong. It would actually streamline the cause of the shuttle crash while removing the entirely extraneous missing submarine which just adds one layer of mystery too many to the undersea plastics factory. You don't need to have him die on the beach just for the purpose of demonstrating the nifty plastic casing effect, because we get to see that effect on Jamila in plenty of time to underscore the drama.

Another example of how the script appears muddier than it is. The Doctor is investigating three occurrences, per the end of 'Judoon.'  The alien tech in Hong Kong, the dead birds in Peru, and the missing submarine near Madagascar. Later we're told that Yaz has figured out that the alien tech is triangulating, but not from the same three points. It's using two of the same points, with the third now being in the middle of the ocean.  But that isn't the one that's being used as a surprise reveal, It's Madagascar which is meant to out Suki as the villain, except that we're already used to Madagascar as being one of the three 'important' spots, in which case the most common viewer reaction is 'Hey, what about Peru?'

It's muddy and it could have been avoided with a little cleanup.

Look, an episode about alien scientists using the human race as a petri dish to sort out their own pandemic issues is a good hook and I strongly suspect was the original pitch. I'd be very surprised if 'there's microbeads of plastic in every human body, what if aliens could turn that against us?' wasn't a separate pitch and the two got worked together at some early stage.

At the end of the day, what we have is an episode in which there are three mysterious disappearances at three unrelated spots on the Earth, each of which had definite marked similarities which all but scream 'these are related, but how?' The Doctor is investigating those three sites, but in each case for separate and much less compelling reasons. And then they stop the episode for the Doctor to basically say, 'Oh yeah. Those deaths were all three the same. I should have noticed and been investigating that instead.' Yes Doctor, you should. In one more draft of the script, you would have been.

Zach is overcome with the realization that he really should have been edited out in the scripting stage

Bits and Pieces

-- Why did Suki disappear? They stated clearly that her alien biology reacted differently to the plastic casing, mostly so that their bodies could still be around for the Doctor and Yaz to check out. But then they go ahead and have Suki die the human way. They were clearly trying to set up that she'd taken the cure meant for humans which wouldn't be safe for her. They should have paid that off more clearly. Or at all.

-- Alien Tech, I can buy the Doctor noticing and investigating. Sick birds and a missing submarine are very low profile occurrences to have drawn her across space. This is the same Doctor who once failed to notice that the War Machines were attacking, the Daleks were opening a time portal, and the Chameleons were kidnapping hundreds of thousands of co-eds, all on the same day and within a twenty mile radius of one another.

-- The plastic encasing effect was really nicely done and different to anything I've seen before. I liked it a lot.

-- So glad Adam lived. I'm incredibly tired of the 'Thanks to the broken machine I must sacrifice myself by manually doing the science thing!' plot point.

-- I do really hope that they meet Gabriela again. She sparked with everybody.

-- I liked that Gabriela and Jamila's relationship was left a little vague. Gabriela called her 'Mehlor Amiga' as she was dying. That translates to 'Best Friend.' I'm happy to have more close platonic friendships out there, but if you want to read it as more you certainly can, and that's fine too.

-- 'Look! We're giving Yaz more to do!' the director shouts at us, as Yaz and Gabriela stay behind to investigate. Which doesn't mean that the scene of them choosing to teleport blindly into whatever the danger might be wasn't a great scene, because it was.

-- I honestly thought that Jake might turn out to be a reformed Krasko from 'Rosa.'  The look was just so similar.

-- Either this story or 'Orphan 55' needed to get pulled or retooled. I get that our environment is in major crisis, but two episodes out of ten this close to one another with this little subtlety about the environmental messaging was off putting.

-- How in god's name did Adam text Jake to let him know he was in Hong Kong? It wasn't from Adam's phone or Jake would have had the number. So sloppy.

-- They seem to think that Jake jumping into the ship to sacrifice himself is 'facing life,' and it's clearly not. It's running away.

-- They really had to at least mention Autons, with this much plastic in the script.




Quotes:

The Doctor: "Why is it always the big lads that need rescuing?"

Gabriela: "Ooo, you work out."
Ryan: "I do a lot of running."

The Doctor: "OK. So with the understanding that was pretty alarming, don't be overly alarmed."

Graham: "Hey, Hey. Whatever is giving off those weird readings is on the other side of that wall. (Yax turns his detector around) Is on the other side of this door."

Jake: "So the box is the doorway into this building."
The Doctor: "No building, you're still in the box."
Jake: "But... the box was smaller than this."
The Doctor: "The inside of the box is bigger than the outside."
Jake: "That's not possible."
The Doctor: "It clearly is, cause you're in it."

The Doctor: "I did say it'd hurt."
Adam: "No, you didn't."
Doctor: "Well, I meant to."

Graham: "So you two know each other how?"
Jake: "We're married."
Adam: "We're separated."
Graham: "Well, one of you is in for a shock."



There is a frustrating amount of good material here for them to have left so much of it muddied and overcomplicated.

Six out of thirteen Doctors

Mikey Heinrich is, among other things, a freelance writer, volunteer firefighter, and roughly 78% water. You can find more of his work at the 42nd Vizsla.

4 comments:

Anomaly21 said...

Very accurate review! I liked the general idea, characters, locations and quotes, but the constant plot holes/some basic acting and bland music/direction weakened it a lot.
Spyfall's direction/music melded perfectly like Woman Fell/Rosa/ Tsuranga/Witchfinders and Ruth's reveal, it can make all the difference!
I liked Gabriella too(and Jake)-her interest and amusement were nice to see, this fam/team don't often seem to really just enjoy the gift of TARDIS travel?
Mainly the Doc/fam only seem to either go home, investigate alien/historical problems/debates or go on typical sun/water holidays; it's like they all inc.Doctor are just escaping their jobs/pasts, not enjoying time/space travel!
Autons would be awesome but the Praxeus virus effect/idea was good, but the 'alien' suited crew/Suki were so unconvincing/ humanlike I couldn't tell if Aramu was alien/not either?
Not sure about next ep personally, looks like a supernatural horror Who-style but after the more controversial/ specific educational/canon-reliant eps will maybe be better received as a typical and creepy adventure!

Anomaly21 said...

P.S. your 'bits and pieces' points and 'quotes' are basically my exact thoughts on the ep, like you read my mind lol.

Katie Hart - Pinterest Manager said...

Yeah, it was kind of a mess. But at least an entertaining mess. Much better than the mess that was Orphan 55 - more interesting/useful side characters (though I agree with you that getting rid of the whole submarine guy could have streamlined things), more for the companions to do (though Yaz teleporting was a bit over the top and foolish), and less preachy of an environmental message.

Speaking of Yaz, I'm glad they're giving her more to do, but not really a fan of "doing something reckless to get the Doctor's approval" vibe I'm getting. Like Clara near the end, mixed with a 5-year-old's want for attention.

But I am really liking how Ryan is becoming the steady confidant for guest characters.

Anomaly21 said...

Agree about Yaz and Ryan. Ryan's had some development learning to be more independent and supportive despite family/health/ trust issues; but Yaz has just kinda run away from her job/ family yet keeps returning to keep up the pretence and has only just now shown signs of repeating Clara's 'be like Doctor' arc.

Maybe her risky teleport was a 'i can do this' response to being trapped by the teleport in Spyfall? But even stupider having known the danger and risking shaky/naive Gabriella too; then again the first teleport was also only 'cause she wanted to stay in the office 5 seconds after suspicious Barton and the murderous aliens? At least it gave Ryan a serious moment thinking Yaz was possibly dead like the spies and having to escape the aliens's building/tell the Doc. A far cry from his initial 'Call Of Duty' shootout with the sniper bots in Ghost Monument!

Oh and loved when Moffat pranked everyone putting Clara's name/ face in the titles after her 'I'm the Doc' bluff lol; Jenna Coleman's 'Doctor' and Michelle Gomez as the Master were fantastic!